The Common Good & Education

Republican political analyst and writer David Brooks’ spoke about Character and The Common Good last week in Boise, Idaho. His conflicting views on the importance of community versus our current education “reforms” were striking — to me.

Is doing what is best for the next generation considered a common good?

Is doing what is right for the next generation considered a common good?

Brooks spoke about how love, relationships, and friendly interactions changes lives.

He believes the country is suffering from “a crisis of the social fabric.” He sees the hope for humanity in communities’ picking up communities thereby building a “denser moral fabric.”

He knows we are divided by education.

He feels our need for personal relationships.

He sees how both Alexander Hamilton and Abraham Lincoln supported “limited but energetic government to enhance social mobility.”

But my theory here is that David Brooks can’t see how education reform policies are destroying our social fabric. There’s a couple of reasons. One, A Nation At Risk (in his own words) marks his involvement with education reform. And two, if you view education reforms from a narrow political perch you can easily fall off. If you fall off, you can’t see far enough back to clearly view the road to educational quality and equality. You can’t see our history.

But, let’s consider the education reform road he, and the nation, traveled.

After the release of A Nation At Risk in 1983, there was a flurry of media sound bites unleashed on the public (more propaganda than substance). But what followed is what really set the stage for standards, assessments, accountability, and technology to be the education reform “gift” from the National Governor’s Association (NGA) and others. (See the fine print below.)

The gift that keeps on giving or taking?

The gift that keeps on giving, or taking?

In the decades that followed, many attendees of this 1996 Education Summit remained major players in education laws that govern our public K-12 system. That reality did not change with congress’ newest law – the Every Student Succeeds Act – ESSA. “They” pushed the law into existence. They rule.

Their governing philosophy —the foundation upon which they built our reforms— is that we were entering the information age and the economy was dependent on dollars flowing into the education “industry.”screen-shot-2016-10-05-at-6-00-59-pm

The fact that the majority of parents were satisfied with their child’s school drove the need to wage a propaganda war on public schools. “They” needed to create a market. (To Market to Market, 1997)

Keep in mind, changes in education take roughly a decade to unfold. During the period prior to the standards, assessment, accountability, technology movement, the United States was making significant educational progress in our K-12 system. This was also a time when our higher education was still the most highly revered in the world.

What the hell were we thinking?

Fast forward to post-9/11 of 2001 when David Brooks wrote One Nation, Slightly Divisible. He talked about the education gap and how the income gap had widened as we entered the information age (aka knowledge-based economy).

And in 2005 Mr. Brooks noted the maturation of the information age, in The Education Gap, as he linked “economic stratification” to “social stratification.” He documented behavioral differences in divorce rates, smoking, exercise, voting, volunteer work, and blood donations linked to educational attainment. Stating that this might be a “more fair” (?) system, he acknowledged that the system was creating

“brutal barriers to opportunity and ascent.”

A couple of months later (and four years after No Child Left Behind), Brooks noted in Psst! ‘Human Capital’ that…

“When President Bush proposed his big education reform, he insisted on tests to measure skills and knowledge…. No Child Left Behind treats students as skill-acquiring cogs in an economic wheel, and the results have been disappointing.”

… Brooks saw skills and knowledge as superficial components. And he went on to mention one of our “classic” government studies…

“…James S. Coleman found that what happens in the family shapes a child’s educational achievement more than what happens in school.”

So despite recognizing inadequacies and the misdirection of the No Child Left Behind law, ITS GOVERNING PHILOSOPHIES REMAIN IN PLACE — student outcomes as measured on standardized tests continues as the basis of our “accountability” mechanism?

Call it fed-led or state-led; it doesn’t matter. The nation doubled down on it…quietly.

And in 2009, David Brooks got caught up in the frenzy of “standing up to the teachers’ unions” as expressed in The Quiet Revolution. He, and many other Republicans across the country, jumped on-board the Democrats’ Obama/Duncan bandwagon of what they were calling “real education reform” — coupling student outcomes and teacher pay.

Never mind that test-based accountability didn’t yield real reform.

Never mind that family and other social supports are extremely important to student success in life. … regardless…

…the Quiet Revolution was celebrated.

By 2010, many involved in the American education reform war declared that Teachers Are Fair Game. Many people still believe that the major problem in education reform is that union rules “protected mediocre teachers.” I know many of my representatives here in Idaho do. But the vast majority of American parents don’t see their children’s teachers as the problem.

Time to Reflect, Reconsider, and Respect the Evidence?

By 2005,  the country recognized the major faults with No Child Left Behind (NCLB). But it remained the education law of the law for an additional decade. The name was finally changed to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) but these guiding principles (the major problems with the law) remain in place…

  • yearly standards-based, test-based accountability,
  • the push for “personalized” learning through technology instead of supporting better teacher-student personal relationships, and
  • “choice” through funding of charter schools (which has been sold to us in the name of “parental engagement,” “flexibility,” “competition,” “free-market,” “a civil right,” and “equality of opportunity” to name a few). It’s the ultimate education-real-estate market.

We know what doesn’t work but we’re being pushed into more of the same through the rules that govern our schools —federal, state, and local.

Consider This: Our Common Ground

In 2001 in One Nation, Slightly Divisible, David Brooks asked; Are Americans any longer a common people? Do we have one national conversation and one national culture? Are we loyal to the same institutions and the same values?

According to his research, we agree “too many children are being raised in day-care centers these days.”

You see, we do value family and support the ideal of family.

In The Education Gap (2005) he stated that we “believe in equality of opportunity.”

You see, we do value the ideal of equal educational opportunity as expressed in the aim of the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965 ESEA, changed to 2001 NCLB and now 2015 ESSA).

How We Missed Seeing the Trees for the Forest

In keeping with most journalists, Brooks only quoted PART of the work of James S. Coleman. Missing is the rest of the Coleman story.

Brooks touched on the importance of a child’s willingness to learn which Coleman delved deeply into and discussed it as “the pupil attitude factor.”screen-shot-2016-10-05-at-6-45-44-pm

Coleman discovered, as Brooks finally did, that a strong community support system for school children is essential to giving every student the opportunity to excel. Coleman dubbed that safety net “social capital” and defined it.screen-shot-2016-10-05-at-6-45-56-pm

So we do see!

In Psst! ‘Human Capital’ (2005), Brooks expounded on what works.

“The only things that work are local, human-to-human immersions that transform the students down to their very beings. Extraordinary schools, which create intense cultures of achievement, work. Extraordinary teachers, who inspire students to transform their lives, work.”

And by 2015 Brooks looked smack in the face of the solution. He does see. In Communities of Character he talked about …

“super-tight neighborhood organizations” and revealed, “…very often it’s a really good school.” These schools “cultivate intense thick community.”

And earlier this year, Brooks once again brushed-up against a solution to offering equal educational opportunity in The Building Blocks of Learning. About this I write with extreme trepidation!

David Brooks wrote,

“Education is one of those spheres where the heart is inseparable from the head.

Even within the classroom, the key fact is the love between a teacher and a student.

For years, schools didn’t have to think about love because there were so many other nurturing social institutions.….emotional engagement is not something we measure and stress.

Today we have to fortify the heart if we’re going to educate the mind.”

So here’s my reason for concern. Just because something is important to student learning does NOT mean WE should:

  • measure it in the children,
  • scapegoat the teachers if the outcomes don’t meet our arbitrary standard, and
  • make damned sure it is anchored to standards, assessment, accountability (and the technology to do that accountability) in our laws!!!!!

Stop already!

We know functional communities are safer, healthier, and better educated. The people in those communities instinctively understand the concept of a strong social fabric and supporting the common good.

Dysfunctional communities don’t get it. Their safety net does not include the strong fabric of our common good. And standards, assessment, accountability, and technology are no substitute for increasing the resources necessary to supply the proper and necessary fabrics.

“Better policy can help.” We need education reform laws that are free from the dirt and stench left behind by the education reform vulture-capitalists. Does the nation agree?vulture

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And are David Brooks’ views on the common good and education reform policies conflicting to others, or, do they clearly echo the sentiments of the nation?

“We” should have a national conversation about that!

The Education Reform Oligarchy: How They Used Us

The education reform oligarchy set an agenda, carefully selected their mode of operations, and agreed upon the bait. They developed a vision, knew what they needed to do, how to do it, and they had the monetary and political support to move a nation to do their bidding. They used us to advance their plan.

Screen Shot 2015-10-04 at 7.47.28 PM

NOTE: Published in 1983.

With wisely selected words, they tapped into our frustration with bureaucracies and BIG government while marketing their wares, following their map, and sticking to their strategies — repeatedly and relentlessly.

They used mass messaging, mass media, and massively powerful organizations to launch and continue to float THEIR mass movement. Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 11.41.31 AMTo succeed with their plan, the oligarchy needed to undermine what was a strong public institution.

There was never any dispute that schools need to constantly be improving themselves and that unequal access to quality education exists because of socioeconomic factors.

And the oligarchy always claimed their plan was about systemic improvements.

At this point, I challenge the notion that their agenda was ever about educational improvement.

Published May, 1986

Published May, 1986

Did they really care about this country’s future?

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American Federation of Teachers, National School Board Association, and the National Education Association went along with the recommendations while ignoring the fact that the plan was market-based from its inception.

Business people look at markets. The oligarchy faced a fact, parents liked their schools. So, they expanded their market shares by creating an illusion of need. Their public persuasion took several forms.

This 1986 public poll shows that very few parents think their schools are failing.

This 1986 public poll shows that very few parents thought their schools were failing. (For the record, I’m one of the few.)

THEY TARGETED A POPULATION:

The marketing plan needed to target a politically active portion of the population who mostly lacked any real contact with —or direct knowledge of— the reality of our schools.

May 27, 1986

Voters understand that to get better jobs, you have to have better schools,” said [then] Gov. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

August 26, 1986

“…parents are a declining percentage of the voting population in this country. It will not be sufficient to have just the parents in favor of better schools. We have got to have the retired population understanding that their future Social Security payments depend upon the earnings of kids who are now going into school.” —Mr. Lewis Branscomb , IBM scientist at the National Governors Association (NGA) meeting.

Was this about better schools or the education market?

“…the knowledge-based economy… ‘What 
is industry in a knowledge-based economy?’ The answer is the education industry.” —Mr. Lewis Branscomb, IBM, NGA meeting.

“Can we do education as an investment, a moneymaking profitable investment?” —Mr. Bradford Butler, Procter & Gamble, NGA meeting.

They had a financial target — to grow the education industry. (Now globally a $4.4 Trillion industry.)

They knew what was needed

“I think the key to engaging a long-term interest and commitment of companies is the adoption of a reform strategy…” Mr. Lewis Branscomb, 1986 NGA meeting.

THEY TAPPED INTO OUR VALUES and CORE BELIEFS.

We wanted assurances that our schools would improve; they sold us test-based accountability. We value freedom of choice and know how important parents are to a child’s education; they peddled school choice as parental involvement.

We have repeatedly asked for better-prepared teachers with a decent salary to match; they put forth merit pay and career ladders based on an unproven, and now statistically dis-proven, theory of reforms. The basis, “standards.” The weapon, “testing.” The attraction, “accountability.”

The standards, testing, accountability movement was rolling forward.

THEY USED OUR GOVERNMENT RESOURCES.

Regional educational laboratories that were established in 1965 to do research and development were used to push the outcome-based strategy.

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 11.59.03 AM

New Standards Project was Marc Tucker’s project. He is the director of NCEE (National Center on Education and the Economy).

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Source: It began as one of our regional educational laboratories. Now McREL International.

THEY USED OUR SYSTEM OF GOVERNING.

From 1991 to 1993, Lamar Alexander was secretary of education with Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch serving as his counsel and being responsible for the Office of Educational Research and Improvement.

What is most notable about this time-frame, other than the advancement of standardization, is what did not happen.

  • The Sandia Report was not discussed — it clarified many reform issues.
  • The warnings of the Education Counts panel were ignored —so we moved on with test-based accountability instead of a system that measures what matters.

THEY USED OUR LAWS to continue putting the outcome-based theory into practice throughout the states, as planned…

“…the Governors were the key to the necessary revolution in school policy.” Marc Tucker, 1986 NGA meeting.

And just like they created a false market for “financial products,” they did the same with the education market.…”To Market, To Market: The School Business Sells Kids Short

“Mary Tanner, managing director at Lehman Brothers, which sponsored the first educational investment conference last year, compares it to health care – ‘a local industry that over time will become a global business.’”

Then as tragedy hit us on  9/11/2001, the federalization of their movement moved forward without much national discussion. With billions on the line, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) sealed the deal with the wording “accountability, flexibility, and choice.” And once again, our government structure was used to support their goals. Instead of research centers, NCLB put in place technical assistance Comprehensive Centers. Now those centers are being used for a new product. But standards and tests are only one product. They want it all!

We believe in having the freedom to choose but with schools, most didn't NEED to do so.

We believe in having the freedom to choose but with schools, most didn’t NEED to do so.

But with only 1 in 4 parents willing to choose a school other than their neighborhood one, the education market needed to expand further. The oligarchy went big on this one.

With the Eli Broad Foundation and Michigan Governor John Engler starting the ball rolling in 2002, the BROAD CENTER leadership development program was launched and their graduates landed (or were strategically placed) in our largest urban school districts to lead school turnarounds. Mostly, we saw disruption through school closures.

The biggest market shares were in the fifty largest cities where the "dropout factories" were ripe for plucking.

The biggest market shares were in the fifty largest cities where the “dropout factories” were ripe for school closures.

Marc Tucker’s National Institute for School Leadership (NISL) wasn’t far behind. He took a different approach to school closures but he continues, to this day, to use our money for his projects. Why isn’t that money going into public institutions?Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 10.16.34 PM

The oligarchy went on to use what they know will work… “disruptive innovation.”

“a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves up market , eventually displacing established competitors.”

Traditional public schools are seen as their competitors.

And they “never let a serious crisis go to waste.” Hurricane Katrina – school closures and re-opening as privately run charters. The Great Recession – an opportunity to accelerate the whole money-making plan using our Recovery Act dollars.

Over and over, they dangled autonomy, better teacher pay, and better schools in front of us. THEY USED OUR INCESSANT WILLINGNESS TO SUPPORT SCHOOLS.CDjZ3EQUEAA0IZI

But, finally, the resistance to pseudo-reforms has been growing. It is a fight against the GERM – Global Education Reform Movement.

The oligarchy’s sustained campaign —outcome-based, neoliberal, greed-driven, pretense of reforms — isn’t unique to the U.S. because this is a global market. So what we see here in the U.S. is what is being seen the world over. We win a battle here and there but…

“…the same ‘reforms’ are again back after one year, albeit in a new package this time. What does this tells us? This tells us that even though the [resistance] movement was strong enough to highlight one specific and temporary aspect of the ‘reform’ agenda; it was not able to make popular the comprehensive critique of the whole process.”student-protests-cbcs-fyup

We need to see their whole process.

As resistance to “disruptive innovations” rise, THEY will use “intervention design thinking principles” to manage the challenges involved in getting us “to engage with and adopt innovative new ideas and experiences.” But remember “innovative” or “new” doesn’t mean better schools for our kids. It more likely means a repackaged education product.

When will this nightmare end? It will only end when enough of us see that the oligarchy has used us, and, only we —collectively—have the power to stop it.

The Education Reform Oligarchy & Stiff Accountability

Who convinced a nation that we should put “stiff accountability” in place without first ensuring that all schools and children had the necessary resources to achieve the excellence in education we demand of them? It was “them,” the rulers; not we, the People.

The education reform oligarchy marketed “accountability,” tied their sales pitch to freedom of choice, used statistics to the point of outright trickery, and suppressed the truth.

They set a game plan and methodically stuck to it.

They shifted our focus from what was set by the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) — better educating teachers and counselors, providing sufficient instructional materials, ensuring students are supported, and engaging parents and the community —to— stiff accountability for student outcomes as judged by standardized test scores. And they took aim at teachers…from the start.

Hired to do public opinion polling by the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy under the direction of Marc Tucker, Mr. Lou Harris explained his findings at the 1986 National Governor’s Association (NGA) meeting.

“…people are convinced the heart of the matter lies in what is done about teachers.…

Of course, this means, in turn, new ground rules for teachers…such as, paying teachers by a new bottom line, …and finally, finally, at last, paying teachers competitive salaries on a level, for example, with accountants.

But then with these upside inducements must also go stiff, stiff accountability, such as annual reporting of school-wide student performance,… and this is the key one — allowing parents the chance to choose which public school to send their kids to as a device to reward schools that are successful.

…this means a new compact in education, a trade-off, if you will, between higher
 salaries and more autonomy for teachers on the one hand, in exchange for higher standards and accountability for teachers measured, in what: in terms of student performance. This is basic.”

There’s your basis for No Child Left Behind — in 1986. Mind you, it’s a theory… the outcome-based theory! Did it work? Did we get the results we sought?

Their focus was not on the unequal inputs that are inherent in a public school system the size and magnitude of our U.S. system. Their focus was not on our high level of poverty and the pockets of community decay that has been allowed to grow and fester. Instead, this group of politicians and think-tankers focused on “stiff, stiff accountability” in exchange for more pay.

They did it! We got a federal accountability system based on student performance but without elevating the teaching profession as a whole. Duped? You bet we were. Where is the accountability for that? Who is answerable for ignoring the needs of teachers and the desire of parents?hal-johnson-quote-we-feel-a-little-bit-like-weve-been-duped

You teachers…listen up…. jump those hoops, not because you are a professional doing your job but for the monetary reward. Worship the almighty dollar just like the oligarchy. It’s how they see things in their world…. these people who own and rule the world. This all made sense to them, well, not all of them.

Not everyone attending the 1986 NGA meeting agreed with the theory of outcome-based accountability.

Mrs. Mary Futrell, then head of the National Education Association, spoke out in favor of a different approach…

“We believe the primary responsibility of an accountability system or an evaluation system, it should be for professional growth. To help the teachers do a better job. We have a real concern that as we look at school-based or school performance or student performance, that we will try to tie teachers’ pay to that, even though there is no research to support it.”

Research? The agenda of the oligarchy was never backed by good research and still isn’t…29 more years later! Research and the dissenting voices have been ignored repeatedly. In this game, both are left on the sidelines.

The outcome-based political agenda moved steadily forward while the focus on inputs and real improvements took a back seat.

By the 1989 NGA annual meeting, President George H. W. Bush (41st president, 1989-93) had entered the picture and had been invited to speak.

“To have reform, excellence in achievement must be recognized and rewarded.

To have reform, federal dollars should be targeted to those most in need.

To have reform, we need flexibility and choice, choice for parents, choice for schools in their selection of teachers and principals.

And finally, the essence of reform is accountability in education and reward for those schools that show progress.”

The essence of reform is accountability — not improving schools to the point where all our schools are of high quality?

At that same gathering, then Governor Bill Clinton expressed,

“I support, as I think you know, your education position. I’m for accountability, choice, alternative certification.”

And by 1991, we had Lamar Alexander, a very strong player on the reform team, positioned at the D.C. front-line as the secretary of education.

“Alexander has also put together a new education agenda that includes a controversial proposal for instituting national achievement tests and more emphasis on adult learning and training for the work force. ”

New agenda? More adult training, just like better pay for teachers?

“His Better Schools program for the state [TN] included a new merit pay system for teachers, tougher standards for students and more emphasis on science, computers and mathematics.”

Then in 1996, the first Education Summit gathered together the governors with business and education leaders.

“Their mission: To start a national effort to establish high academic standards, assessment and accountability and improve the use of school technology as a tool to reach high standards.”

The gift that keeps on giving or taking?

The gift that keeps on giving or taking?

Education and the economy were wed in an unholy matrimony that put the quality of education for public school children at risk while putting a bundle of public dollars in a relatively small group of private pockets. This marriage also produced Achieve as “an external, independent, non-governmental” organization for moving the main agenda forward.

“All students should graduate from high school ready for college, careers, and citizenship.”

As we now know, the focus on citizenship didn’t happen. (For the research, scroll down to “In life” section of this blog.) Just like with teacher pay and more focus on adult training, we were duped again. They dangled carrots and we bit.

Throughout all these years, it was reported that the public supported “accountability.” There’s nothing wrong with that. But, did the public realize that it was always an accountability package that put the American education system up for sale?

The oligarchy’s plan always feed the education-industrial complex. William (Bill) Bennett, who went from being President Reagan’s second secretary of education to being a co-founder of K-12, Inc. in 1999, typifies how being politically powerful leads to profits and doesn’t require producing the promised results.

“As K12 Inc. notes in its annual report, ‘most of (its) revenues depend on per pupil funding amounts and payment formulas” from government contracts for virtual public charter schools and “blended schools'(combining online with traditional instruction) among other products. In 2014, K12 Inc. took in $919.6 million from its business.”

And all of the political maneuvering and manipulation of the public over these past decades opened the door further for the oligarchy to use ESEA (No Child Left Behind) as a way to forever (or maybe not) change the focus of the law from supports for children of low-income families and improvement of educational quality for all children —to—“accountability, flexibility, and choice.”

Enter Mr. Obama: He never promised anything that strayed too far from the NCLB goals. And the politics of neoliberalism (scroll to definition in this blog) has doomed him to repeat and amplify the mistakes of the past. The toxicity of D.C. politics is killing public education.

From Democrats for Education Reform - They say they are an "organization that cultivates and supports leaders ...who champion America’s public schoolchildren." Others beg to differ.

From Democrats for Education Reform – They say they are an “organization that cultivates and supports leaders …who champion America’s public schoolchildren.” Others beg to differ.

Education reform is their game and their message has been successfully framed. Data and disaggregation of it isn’t the problem. Who controls the data is.

Parents, you aren’t really players; you are targets of their messaging. And you are pawns. You need to get off the sidelines and into the action — and play responsibly. To do so, you need the truth.

What is missing is the truth.

In roughly 30 years, we have not been able to break away from Mr. Marc Tucker’s vision and plan for America’s education/workforce development system. This is the same man who now proposes that we can “fix” the accountability system by eliminating the power of local boards and putting us all under the thumb of State control (yes, with a capital “S”).

The country bought into the outcome-based theory of education reform. We experimented. Now, can’t we see the results?

Civil rights groups that support test-based federal accountability must face the facts.

Civil rights groups that support test-based federal accountability must face the facts.

“…a return to levels of integration last seen during the Johnson administration.”

Separate schools are inherently unequal which is why federal education law must focus on providing quality inputs while only monitoring outcomes for continuous improvement purposes.

The gains we made in narrowing the achievement gap, after the implementation of the 1965 ESEA, have slowed considerably since 2004. Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 11.15.33 AM

 

If we wanted equal educational opportunity, we are faltering.

 

 

If we wanted an accountability system that closes down neighborhood schools, fires teachers, and lowers the standards for entry to the teaching profession through alternative certification and emergency measures to fill needed teaching positions, we are there.

If we finally want to do the right thing for every child in our public schools right now, we have to kill No Child Left Behind, ditch the theory it was based on, and go back to a system that did produce results.

NCLB will be replaced, but, will the new law really be based on what we learned from this 30 year still-living experiment in outcome-based reform? Since Senator Lamar Alexander had a hand in developing the game plan from the beginning, he should be able to provide answers. Isn’t that what stiff accountability demands? Answers.

The Education Reform Oligarchy & Their School Choice Conversation

Wish I could just turn back the clockThe education reform oligarchy of the 80’s had a school choice conversation —at least one that is a matter of record.

It’s doubtful that the public can recall what was discussed. It’s doubtful that very many were really invited to listen. What is more likely is that most people are left asking, what school choice conversation?

So here’s how the story went

“At its meeting in August 1985, the members of the National Governors’ Association [NGA] formed seven task forces for the purpose of examining in-depth critical problem areas in American education.”

Time for Results?

Time for Results?

It’s unlikely that very many people would argue against the idea that parent involvement in education is critical. Then — now, forever, and always — parent, community, and national involvement and support for public schools is a problem in critical need of being addressed with real solutions. How exactly school choice came to be seen as a “critical” problem depends …

“Whether the push for school choice is driven by economic and political forces, or by parents and educators, depends on whom you ask.”

What we know for sure is now our history.

To be clear, since the development of free desegregated public school education, people in the United States of America have had the freedom to choose between their local public schools, private schools, and home-schooling. There is no forced attendance at government-run schools only. There are compulsory attendance laws to protect a child’s right to an education but people have always had a choice in how to comply with that law. We have always had school choice. … to date.

But when was it discussed that school choice is the best answer for a lack of parental involvement? Who knows?

What was decided was to attach the issue of school choice to that of parental involvement. However, at the 1986 NGA meeting, a year after the topics had been decided, then Governor Lamar Alexander introduced the topic like this

“We will then hear presentations from three of the Governors who led the task forces on teaching, on leadership, and on choice.”

Their presentation of a critical problem area went from “parental involvement and choice” to “choice”?

Governor Dick Lamm of Colorado chaired that task force. As he explained it,…

“What we were looking at is how can we give additional flexibility to parents and students in choosing their schools within the public school context.”…

“Some of these could be magnet schools, some of them could be alternative schools, some of them could just be different options among the public schools.”

Lamm recommended PUBLIC choices. These choices were all under local district governance. And even though the topic was introduced as “choice,” Governor Lamm did share some views on parental involvement.

And he did acknowledge…

“The two things we looked at: choice, parental involvement. They are related but they are also separate.”

But in publication after publication, parental involvement and choice would be lumped together without any emphasis on “the choice” being “within the public school context.” It was never a significant part of the school choice public conversation.

The chair of the Choice Task Force wasn’t the only one voicing concerns.

Mr. Al Shanker (then head of the American Federation of Teachers) was one among many who tried to explain the potential pitfalls of “choice.”

“We live in a society where that [choice] is one of our top values.”

“Kids have more of a commitment when they decide on a program or a school than parents do.”

“I am very concerned, and I think all of us have to be concerned, that there are situations where choice could result, let’s say, in the top 25 percent of the students in a major city being offered nice spots in suburban schools, and leaving the schools in that city that might very well be on their way to coming back, leaving them without any role models at all for those other students.”

“Therefore, as we move towards systems of choice, I think you ought to be very sensitive that we may be leaving a lot of kids behind, and we have got to look at that. That’s not to argue against choice, it’s just to argue that we do it in a thoughtful way.”

“There is one other downside which hasn’t been mentioned on this…. The parents’ associations in England complain bitterly that if you have the right to switch, nobody wants to fight. That is, nobody is left to argue that you need improvement in the school because the dissatisfied people move out, leaving only those who either don’t know what is going on or who don’t care, or don’t have the time or the energy to move.”

“You rescue your own kid and say the heck with the rest of it. These things have to be watched.”

“I don’t know all the problems that are going to arise….I want to experiment. I want to make sure we don’t 
decimate the cities.”

Was it just the teacher’s union and a governor or two that questioned school choice as a reform strategy?

Ms. Georgeanne Sherrill, a career ladder 3 elementary teacher in Tennessee, was attending the 1986 NGA meeting to present information on instructional leadership and “career ladders” — an initiative of Lamar Alexander’s. She joined the conversation.

“I would just like to say one thing. I think it’s in connection with what Ms. Futrell [then president of National Education Association] said. I think we can give parents a choice in education without having to pull the students out of one school and put them in another school. We can work with parents to structure the program in that school to meet the needs of the parents that have children in that school.”

That suggestion seemed to be discarded at the time but is finding favor in some areas of the country now.

So it wasn’t just one union leader, or two, or one teacher that voiced objections and concerns. As the chair of the Parent Involvement and Choice Task Force, Governor Lamm went on to explain…..

“I, like I think most of the other governors, are desperately concerned about opening up choice to public or private school and the choice of a voucher or any similar thing, with cannibalizing the existing public school system, about taking resources that are already really too limited.”

There was definite dissention in the ranks of leadership. But the dissenting voices were effectively struck down at every turn by then Secretary of Education Bennett and the Chair of NGA, Governor Alexander.

The conversation going forward? It was framed.

Summary by Lamar Alexander

Summary by Lamar Alexander

What did we hear from the chair of NGA? We heard the question,

“Why not let parents choose the schools their children attend?”

And the talk was of a “better schools movement.”

“It will mean giving parents more choice of the public schools their children attend as one way of assuring higher quality without heavy-handed state control.”

And the project moved forward with the help of the U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Bennett’s leadership. The nation had a new project, officially —Project Education Reform.Screen Shot 2015-09-13 at 3.09.50 PM

The newsletter gave no explanation of "choice."

The newsletter gave no explanation of “choice.”

The critical problems of parental involvement and choice became joined at the hip —one dragging the other forward—but at this point in the story, not much was really said about the details of choice.

 

Did the report by the National Commission on Excellence in Education (A Nation at Risk) have school choice as one of its recommendations? No. The school choice agenda moved forward because influential and “gifted” people pushed it.

William Bennett was one such leader, for sure…

“He is a man of great brilliance and strong convictions, but he is a preacher, not a teacher. He is trying to manipulate public opinion to accept his ideas of what is right and wrong. This would be forgivable if he were not as gifted as he is and if he were not the Secretary of Education.”

”Bill Bennett is the first Secretary to understand the ideological and political possibilities of the office that were there from the beginning. In Bill Bennett we’re getting our first Minister of Education.”

“…he waded in with a controversial new voucher plan that would give parents of disadvantaged children funds that could be spent in private and parochial as well as public schools.”

School choice was part of the Bennett agenda from the beginning. How much he really cared about the disadvantaged, who knows?

But by 1989, we had a new president, a different secretary of education, and had some changes in governorships. What did not change was the Project Education Reform agenda —with one exception. The facade of parent involvement had been dropped. Instead of a task force on Parent Involvement and Choice, we now had a working group for Choice and Restructuring (pg.44).

Insert1And by 1991, it was Lamar Alexander who became secretary of education putting himself in a prime position to carry their reform agenda forward.

Today as head of the senate education committee, he has done his part to federalize the plan for school choice while being the artful dodger in avoiding any conversation concerning “choice.” The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is in conference committee…..tick, tock….

The bill to replace No Child Left Behind is a critical problem.

The bill to replace No Child Left Behind is a critical problem.

 

Time for the school choice conversation again? In light of the fact that the Dyett Hunger Strike is occurring in Chicago because an open enrollment neighborhood public high school is no longer a choice, we need to have the school choice conversation all over again…now. What is America’s choice?

“The hunger strike is now at Day 28 as of this writing (9/13/15) and the Chicago Board of Education has finally opened talks with the strikers.”

This level of sacrifice by a small group of people should make us all feel a bit humbled by their resolve, but a little sick inside that it has come to this — the oligarchy rules and, in general, they don’t feel the need to listen to any of us.

You-Haver-A-ChoiceThe public’s choice?

The Education Reform Oligarchy: Who Decided?

Who decided it was best to have an education reform oligarchy set the strategy for school improvements? This oligarchy is made up of politicians, business-heads, and philanthropic venture capitalists that are transforming our public education system. Did we decide we wanted these people to change our schools for us?

609106-668-1When did Americans decide that governing by the few was acceptable?

Who’s in this elite group?

The complete list of those who set the agenda for education reform remains a bit of a mystery but enough of the oligarchy have surfaced over the years to make for an accurate, yet incomplete, picture.

One thing is certain, the “iron law of oligarchy” rings true in the case of the National Governors Association (NGA). The law…

“…states that when organizations attain a certain level of complexity they inevitably give way to an oligarchy of elite control — elite domination. This phenomenon is due to the rise of politically sophisticated social elites within the organization as well as the organization’s need to maintain consistent command and control administrative governance in order to attain its goals.”

The approximate time when our modern-day education reform oligarchy was formally established is somewhere between 1982 and 1986. But it doesn’t really matter. The fact is, it is real and “They” (whoever they are) are still in control. NGA was, and remains, one reform tool central to their work. As then Secretary of Education William (Bill) Bennett told the governors at the NGA meeting in 1986 at Hilton Head, South Carolina,

“…you are in charge of schools in your states, and when you decide to act you can act.”

And the association, with counsel, took actions to transform the public education system based on a vision provided by those that see nothing wrong with a small ruling class dictating the change they have decided will work for us.

Here is some insight into their reasoning:

From Mr. Lewis Branscomb (in 1986) as the chief scientist for IBM who headed the task force on teaching for the Carnegie Foundation;

“We hear a lot about a knowledge-based economy. I think it’s important to appreciate that moving into a knowledge-based economy, if that’s what it takes to be competitive, that we can’t expect the smokestack industries to create the new employment.

Then we have to ask, “What 
is industry in a knowledge-based economy?” The answer is the education industry. The next question you ask is, “Well, how competitive is the education industry?” A question Governor Lamm asked in a very interesting paper I read. You have to say our education industry — to be sure a public sector industry, nonetheless an industry –is not competitive today. So, if our economy is going to be competitive, the education industry has got to be competitive.

I think the key to engaging a long-term interest and commitment of companies is the adoption of a reform strategy, like that proposed by the Carnegie task force and the Governors’ task force…

…parents are a declining percentage of the voting population in this country. It will not be sufficient to have just the parents in favor of better schools. We have got to have the retired population understanding that their future Social Security payments depend upon the earnings of kids who are now going into school.”

PDK/Gallup

PDK/Gallup

 

Targeting public opinion? We find a consistent difference of opinion between how parents see their own school —based on their experiences and knowledge of their school— and how they view the public schools in the nation. Is this a difference between what they see and hear for themselves and what the marketing for the reform strategy has produced?

 

 

 

From Marc Tucker (in 1986) as executive director of the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy;

“When the Carnegie Forum Task Force began its work, we knew that the Governors were the key to the necessary revolution in school policy.

The results are clear. The Governors and the members of the Carnegie Task Force are of one mind on the issues and on strategy. The Carnegie Forum stands ready to join with each of you and with the National Governors’ Association in implementation of our common agenda.

We now know that the Governors of this country are solidly committed to a new political compact in education and to a set of powerful strategies for completing that compact.”

oligarchy

 

Like-minded leaders targeting the public? The focus of the 1986 meeting was on what was being dubbed “the 1991 Education Report” which outlined their five-year plan.

 

From Lou Harris (in 1986), of Lou Harris and Associates polling organization hired by the Carnegie Foundation to assess the popularity of the Carnegie Forum report A Nation Prepared, these observations of his polling results;

“In this study we just concluded for the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy…the clear mandate is for nothing less than complete and comprehensive overhaul of the entire public education system….

What you do today will be national policy tomorrow, and a generation from now, it’s my view, that a grateful nation will give you its thanks for what you have done here this week.”

And the predictions from the chair of the NGA (in 1986), then Governor Lamar Alexander (who now leads the charge as chair of the Senate HELP – Health, Education, Labor, Pension- committee)…

“If you look over the horizon and see a big cloud of dust, it’s not likely to be the Russians or the buffaloes coming; it’s likely to be the Governors coming to save the schools, and coming in virtually every state.”

In a 1986 New York Times article, the author observed

“…what this political process has not been able to address thus far is how to move from the ‘input’ to the ‘output,’ or how the increased resources will be translated into students who can meet the higher standards.”

A couple of things are noteworthy about that statement; this was a political process, it was meant to move us from a focus on inputs to one of outputs (outcome-based education reform), and there was talk of increased resources. Talk.

Today we know that education budgets were cut dramatically during our Great Recession, funding remains inequitable and downright inadequate in many places, costs for testing with ever-changing new “higher” standards and all the new curriculum materials that go with them has driven up education costs dramatically while teachers still struggle with supplying the classroom materials they need. Outputs in the face of the wrong inputs? Silliness, or, the strategy?

By 1990, the teachers’ unions also had set a new agenda

“… to not only protect the job-related interests of their members but also ensure the success of the education industry.”

Doing the bidding of the oligarchy? Following the guiding principle to support the education reform market?100510giroux2

If success of the education industry is how education is tied to the economy then the strategy our rulers put forth makes sense. Private profits went up. Public dissatisfaction with school reforms went up and new education industry products appeared — giving us a choice, providing competition. Who decided this was the choice we needed?

The Reading Wars. The Math Wars. Someone always profits from wars.

Milwaukee-Public-Schools-Not-For-Sale1The education reform wars still continue to be a political process wrought with blunders because the American education reform oligarchy —the few that rule—don’t listen to the many that have a good solid base of experience and knowledge. We are many.

But back to the governors and their association, today, do they or we know what the actually recommendations were? Do we know if, in the 80’s, the governors were listening to the testimony of those outside their relatively small circle of influence? Time for results?

Do the ruling elite understand what was in the original plans? Many were present then and still ruling now. They should know. But is their focus on serving the common good by providing quality education to all children, or, supporting the economy by supporting the education industry? These things have not proven to be one-in-the-same.

I don’t think the public knows what was in the original plans. If we did, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t be doing what we are doing to the institution of public education. We aren’t reforming; we are allowing systemic destruction to advance while the industry profits.

The education reform agenda, that has dominated the U.S. for three decades, was set for us by the education oligarchy.

We should decide if we wish to continue with their plan and strategies.

Decide: Should education reform continue as a political process or a school improvement process? Must we take control of both to set things right?power-to-the-people

What Debate?

The marketing campaign to FIX No Child Left Behind began back in January with announcements that there would be debate.

A draft of the Every Child Ready for College or Career Act of 2015 was released and many newspapers and education associations picked up the story including the American Educational Research Association.

“The draft bill contains several provisions related to research. If enacted, the bill would task the Institute of Education Sciences with evaluating Title I activities. In addition, state plans submitted to the Department of Education would be approved unless the department presented “substantial high-quality education research” that demonstrated that a plan would be ineffective or inappropriate. The bill does not define high-quality education research.

Alexander has made it clear that he hopes to have a substantial discussion about ESEA.”

Discussion? Debate? Both are important and citizens should have been included to help shape and direct the debate about “fixing” the law. After-all, we were the ones who were subjected to the consequences of bad ideas being passed by congress and signed into law, in this case, by then President Bush. And there was never an official parental complaint process!

But instead of the anticipated discussion, Senator Alexander immediately directed “the debate” to the topic of Testing and Accountability while avoiding the topic of national standards themselves by pacifying people with his standard “no national school board” meaningless rhetoric. And the marketers changed the law’s name to get away from the identifying language of the controversial Common Core Initiative (College or Career Ready). The Every Child Achieves Act proved to be more palatable.

Screen Shot 2015-07-19 at 4.32.20 PMHow did the so-called debate go? Both the House and Senate bills to replace NCLB maintained the yearly standardized testing for accountability purposes in math and language arts just like in NCLB. What they did do, to sell this fallacy of test-based accountability again, was shift the responsibility for accountability mechanisms to the States. Does that change the problem with high-stakes testing? No. Resources focused on testing are spent. They can’t be used for other things.

But to appease the arts groups, the Senate threw them a bone.

“By naming music and arts as core subjects in the Every Child Achieves Act, the Senate has acknowledged and begun to address the national problem of the narrowing of the curriculum that has taken place under No Child Left Behind (NCLB) for more than a decade now.”

How that will “work” in already underfunded and under-performing schools is questionable but these groups base their feeling of success right now on hope. And they now feel their voices have been heard —one group appeased.

The next topic Alexander approved for a “hearing” was that of Supporting Teachers and School Leaders. Screen Shot 2015-07-19 at 4.32.28 PMAfterwards, Senator Murray delivered statements that sounded much like what we have heard for years —expressing things upon which we generally agree.

But in the bill itself, although teacher residency programs are prominent in the “definitions” section, it is other elements of teacher and school leadership development and evaluation that dominate the law. Federal “incentives” for teacher and school leader certification and licensing (aligned with challenging standards), alternative routes to teaching, and “reforming” tenure systems are all included. These things are not supported by research as being effective “to ensure that ever child achieves” —the purpose of the law.

And looking at the bigger picture, both the House and Senate versions claim to be shifting the control to the States. In the very real world of D.C. politics, certain organizations that represent the States stand to greatly increase their influence. Take the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO, chief creators of the Common Core Standards System) for example.

CCSSO has a teacher and principal preparation program ready to go. They have included multiple new elements requiring the expansion of technology and data collection systems including….Screen Shot 2015-07-19 at 10.25.04 PMand…Screen Shot 2015-07-19 at 10.26.45 PMThey have it under CONTROL. Kept in mind, CCSSO is a non-governmental organization that has no responsibility for being responsive to the public’s desires. They are in no way accountable to us. And they have had their sights set on ESEA reauthorization for years —the same number of years as the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

They have a “new deal” for us and for themselves it looks like. We should debate who’s goals they represent.

Screen Shot 2015-07-19 at 10.34.00 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-19 at 10.34.48 PM

 

 

 

 

 

Did we get to debate any of this? No, it was set in motion years ago with no public participation. Remember, there was no official complaint process for No Child Left Behind and these actions don’t fix that.

No record; no accountability. No debate, only a very controlled dog-and-pony show.

The House and Senate bills passed their respective houses proving that On The Hill, “We mean business on K-12 education.” Those in the education industry know that to be the truth!

Here’s how the market-based reformers see it….

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 9.19.33 PMExpanding charters and retaining annual testing ARE in both bills. But wasn’t that federal mandate at the heart of the problem?

Charters? Never debated. Never research proven to be an improvement over existing public schools. Not a reform.debate

“Streamlining” is a questionable term since programs are actually being CUT and we can’t debate whether or not that is a good thing since we don’t know specifically which ones are being cut other than the School Improvement Grants (which had some useful but never openly discussed results).

Transparency? Increased transparency? I don’t see it. Do they mean like we saw with Common Core<sarc>? Do they mean like we might get if the media covered what is really happening instead of what information is released? Do they mean transparency like we might develop if topics were openly debated in public and the alternative view WAS allowed to be heard?

Have we even had public officials openly debate what was wrong with No Child Left Behind? How do they know if they “fixed” it if the problems was never fully exposed?

Obviously the marketers know what people want to hear; on that, they did their research.

We want to hear that education reform was honestly discussed and debated. But, the question remains…

JFKdebate…what debate?

Wrong is Wrong

Senator Alexander believes in making “the Bush-era law work.” He stated that, “How well our children are learning is much more important than any political game” but his actions have not matched his rhetoric.images copy 3

The truth is that education reform has been nothing more than one BIG political game. A major part of Lamar Alexander’s life was spent in the political arena and his vision of reform has affected the education of the nation’s children.

Here’s how the game “worked”; the influential set our course for education reform 30 years ago. The nation’s schools, teachers, parents, and children have taken the brunt of their mistakes while those in power marched on never wavering from their goal despite evidence of their mistakes.

The influential were wrong in theory and in action. And given his history, Lamar Alexander has to be counted as one of the most influential players in this game.

puppetAs Secretary of Education, Alexander not only led us in the wrong direction, he also helped put blinders on us. In this politically influential position, he found multiple ways to pull the strings to get the country dancing to his tune.

“America 2000” was unveiled in April 1991 shortly after Alexander replaced Lauro Cavazos as Bush’s education secretary. Alexander was prime architect of the program, which included the proposed creation of national standards and voluntary national tests in English, math, science, history, and geography to be administered in grades 4, 8 and 12.”

And,….

“…voucher legislation first prepared in 1992 by Mr. Alexander, as secretary of education in the Bush administration, has been the basis for Mr. Dole’s “opportunity scholarship” proposal in an election in which voters say education is at the top of their agenda.”

And there were things he chose not to do.

Secretary Alexander chose to ignore the Sandia researchers report stating that the idea of school choice is in direct conflict with support for troubled schools.

“In early 1991, the Sandia team prepared a report, asserting that “evidence of decline used to justify system-wide reform is based on misinterpretations or misrepresentations of the data.”

The Sandia researchers have been muzzled. The Department of Education complained that the report was biased because “data shown are consistently supportive of a picture of U.S. education in a positive light.” The report, Secretary of Energy James Watkins charged, “is a call for complacency at a time when just the opposite is required. The Department of Energy will not permit publication of the study as presently drafted.” It has still not been released.” From the Myth of Public School Failures, Richard Rothstein, 2001

Secretary Alexander chose to ignore the warning of the Special Study Panel on Education Indicators…Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 11.53.15 AMA nation misled will eventually be lost…unless we self-correct. We have that freedom.

Lamar Alexander has exercised his freedom of choice and executed his political agenda with fidelity while keeping much of the country veiled in ignorance.

“Mr. Alexander, a former governor of Tennessee, became a co-director of Empower America in 1994.”

“…the Washington-based outfit has provided funding, staffing, and organization to help Messrs. Kemp, [former Reagan Secretary of Education] Bennett, and Alexander refine their policy ideas–including school choice and the devolution of federal education programs–and expand their political bases after departing from public office.”

“Empower America plans to continue promoting school choice, and Mr. Alexander is expected to take a lead role….We’re planning on [Mr. Alexander] coming back and being a part of a big school-choice initiative.”

Empower America is now called Freedom Works. Freedom Works’ motto for education reform is “Bring competition to public education and give kids and parents real opportunity.” Real opportunity?

Words, words, and more words. But….

Senator Alexander has managed to dodge explaining the failures of his theories and to put forth any evidence-based reasons for the federal government (the government of us) to financially support an ideologically driven, market-based, outcome-based, standards-based (test-based), reform law that sponsors privatization of public schools to replace what once was an anti-poverty law (ESEA). It’s wrong.

The Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177 NOTE: the name was changed to Every Student Succeeds Act ESSA & made into law) has it wrong for the very same reasons that No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was wrong.

Instead of factual reasons why NCLB was so devastating to public schools, Senator Alexander reaches for his political game card.

“The problem has been that, starting with No Child Left Behind, we’ve created in effect a national school board and Washington has started requiring the standards and that’s created a huge backlash — first with the teachers’ union because they don’t like teacher evaluation from Washington or anywhere else, and second from conservatives who don’t like federal overreach.”

Dodge ball?

Alexander uses the nonexistent “national school board” as a catchphrase… “What states need is not centralized support for the new policies and procedures dictated by the national school board, but freedom from Washington …,”

If the nation wants national standards, who do they want to put in charge of them? The non-profit who currently holds the copyright to the Common Core? The powers that be? Answers Senator Alexander?

If the nation wants national standards, who do they want to put in charge of them? The non-profit who currently holds the copyright to the Common Core? The powers that be? Answers Senator Alexander?

He rallies his troops with empty rhetoric. Freedom, freedom, freedom works!

Three decades after the plot was set, the plans laid by Alexander and company are coming to fruition. They have convinced a nation (with the help of some of the best marketing firms in the world plus some deception) that standards and testing are an essential first step in education reform. They’re wrong.

Wrong is wrong no matter how you dress it up, talk it up, or mark it up in law. It’s wrong and as a nation we’ve been wronged.

The influential pulled our strings.

Our guiding principle in the design of a choice system is this: Public authority must be put to use in creating a system that is almost entirely beyond the reach of public authority.”

Is that the guiding principle the influential followed?

So much for ACCOUNTABILITY! Isn’t this FLEXIBILITY with our tax dollars to the extreme? CHOICE served up in law all because the country didn’t know the facts and marketers did a number on us?

No Child Left Behind was a bad law because its guiding principles are “accountability, flexibility, and choice.” We should not try to make it work. Its guiding principles are dead wrong.

Wrong is wrong. There is no making this education law right, unless…..we go back to the guiding principles of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)— supporting quality education and equality in opportunity by focusing on the children from low-income families. It’s the only way to make this right.Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 3.52.56 PM

“Education is the business of the American people.” Francis (Frank) Keppel

We jump in now or let the big players finish the game. You can see how it’s done. Just look at Senator Alexander and the position he is in today —- the vote on his law is coming in the next couple of days.

Playing politics has been Lamar Alexander’s game of choice (pun intended). There is only one way to right this wrong. Stop the process.

Doing the same thing, following the same leaders, and expecting different results is not only insane, it’s wrong.

54f226a5704f4351094d8dc6f02db40bStop playing follow the leader and take independent actions to hold lawmakers accountable. Make them do the right thing for the right reasons.

Accountability & ESEA Reauthorization

“Accountability is not a bad thing, but it can be done badly. And that’s where we find ourselves now…No single idea, policy or solution can begin to address all the challenges in 50 states, 15,000 districts and 90,000 public schools…we need accountability for the entire system.” — Dennis Van Roekel, President of NEA, 6/10/14

Accountability in ESEA reauthorization needs to take into account all the major issues involved in student performance.

Accountability in ESEA reauthorization needs to take into account all the major issues involved in student performance.

When you look at the visual provided here, it’s easy to see that our myopic focus on student outcomes as the basis of accountability for No Child Left Behind set us on a tragic course destined to sink the U.S. education system.

To attempt an explanation of how accountability for the entire system is possible, I elected to begin with a statement from this, October 28, 2014, letter from key civil rights organizations.

To: President Obama, Secretary Duncan, Congressional and State Educational Leaders:

Re: Improving Public Education Accountability Systems and Addressing Educational Equity.

“…many struggling school systems have made little progress under rules that emphasize testing without investing.”

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 3.48.00 PMThe focus on “testing without investing” can very simply be brought to a halt. If the government won’t stop this, parents will have to take the law into their own hands as they are doing with the United Opt Out Movement.

If those continuing to insist on forced yearly testing are doing so because they do not trust state and local officials to work towards equal opportunity, that is understandable. But IF Congress cannot “fix” their mistakes now, after being aware of them for a decade, a two-year federal moratorium on all federally mandated testing except NAEP (National Assessment of Education Progress) is reasonable given what we know.

We know we created a lost generation in education and in our economy. We tested without investing in real school improvements. We ignored much while focusing only on the tip of the iceberg.

Here’s the problem:

“Common sense dictates that in order for students to achieve they must have appropriate opportunities to learn.” Wendy Schwartz – Opportunity To Learn Standards, 1995

The concept of “opportunity to learn assessments” isn’t something that the public hears much about but as Schwartz explained, they are “used to indicate overall educational quality, and, more specifically, the availability and use of education resources.

Hopefully that helps people better understand the concerns of the civil rights groups and their requests to Congress and the Obama administration. The eight points below are theirs; the elaboration on them is mine. Their emphasis was on providing “productive learning conditions for all students in each school” using measures of educational inputs and outcomes based on eight requirements for effective accountability:

  1. Appropriate and Equitable Resources to ensure opportunities to learn,
  2. Multiple Measures of both inputs and outcomes,
  3. Shared Responsibility – from the community to the classroom to all levels of the system – to fulfill their obligation to support learning for all students,
  4. Professional Competence requiring proper preparation, continuing education,and professional learning opportunities for all,
  5. Informative Assessments that are indicators of continuous improvement of both the students’ progress and the systems’ responsiveness to identified problems,
  6. Transparency requiring that the indicators of improvement be specific, targeted, meaningful, and easily accessible and readable,
  7. Meaningful and Responsive Parental and Family Engagement must be made a priority in funding and practice,
  8. Capacity Building should be the focus of all interventions whether it is for the student, school, or system because it is only by strengthening and increasing an individuals’ or institutions’ capability to perform that we ensure a strong foundation for progress.

HOW?

The structure for a responsive and responsible accountability mechanism was recommended in 1991 by the Special Study Panel on Education Indicators and presented to the Acting Commissioner of Education Statistics, Emerson J. Elliott, then Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander, and Assistant Secretary of the Office of Educational Research and Improvement Diane Ravitch.

The panels’ goal was to “develop a comprehensive education indicator information system capable of monitoring the health of the enterprise, identifying problems, and illuminating the road ahead” which meant they were looking at leading indicators as well as an evaluation of the systems’ current status.

The panel began by clarifying that “unlike most other statistics, an indicator is policy-relevant and problem-oriented…but indicators cannot, by themselves, identify causes or solutions.”

Understanding that “information requirements of the federal government have little in common with those of the school superintendent or principal,” the panel anticipated the need for indicator systems corresponding to federal, state, and local needs.

Their first step was to define “the conceptual framework” and “fundamental principles” by which to create and guide an education indicator information system to meet the demands of the public and policymakers.

These fundamental convictions were outlined and explained:

  • Indicators should address enduring issues. We should assess what we think is important, not settle for what we can measure.
  • The public’s understanding of education can be improved by high-quality, reliable indicators.
  • An effective indicator system must monitor education outcomes and processes wherever they occur.
  • An indicator system built solely around achievement tests will mislead the American people.
  • An indicator system must respect the complexity of the educational process and the internal operations of schools and colleges.
  • Higher education and the nation’s schools can no longer be permitted to go their separate ways.

The panel set down a framework around six issues and the main factors contributing to success in those areas. They expressed the concept as “clusters of indicators” designed to give us the best understanding of these complex issues.Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 6.50.01 PMIn essence, this panel was encouraging us to develop a “mixed model of indicators — national indicators, state and local indicators, and a subset of indicators held in common.”

But — always a “but” — in 1991, the public and this panel still held the belief, and clearly pushed it forward, that international comparison data was “the ultimate benchmarks of educational performance.” It wouldn’t be until 1993 that a brief glimpse at the Sandia National Laboratories report on education put the interpretation of international test scores, and standardized test scores in general, in perspective. “The major differences in education systems and cultures across countries diminish the value of these single-point comparisons.”

Sandia researchers critically evaluated “popular, not necessarily appropriate” measures of performance and in the end stated that the available data was collected for such “specific purposes” that it was “often used in unintended and sometimes inappropriate applications.” They warned, “this practice may result in poorly focused actions, with disappointing outcomes.” On that point, both of these groups of researchers were in agreement.

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 3.38.39 PMScreen Shot 2015-03-19 at 3.39.03 PM

 

To avoid too narrow a focus yet not be overwhelmed by statistics or the collection of them, the 1991 Panel on Education Indicators went for a “comprehensive” issue-focused approach.

 

 

 

For each of the six issue areas, they further detailed the system with subsets.

 

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 3.39.22 PM

 

 

 

They did the same with issues of “leading indicators” particularly changes in society affecting a child’s readiness for school…

 

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 3.40.22 PM

 

 

…and the supports necessary for student success.

 

 

 

The panel stressed that “the most powerful system of indicators will start from the perspective of what consumers and the public expect and need from education” understanding that “the people of the United States also clearly expect the nation’s schools and colleges to advance certain national values above and beyond the benefits education provides to individual students.”

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 3.40.48 PM

 

To accommodate the public, these two issues were included: education and economic productivity, and…

 

 

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 3.51.31 PM

 

 

 

… equity in American education.

 

 

Is this doable? Could a “mixed model of indicators” be used to assess all the elements laid out in the civil rights letter? For our large and diverse country, would this system better fit our needs than the test-based accountability of No Child Left Behind?

The original Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was NOT an accountability law until the No Child Left Behind version of it. ESEA was one of a group of anti-poverty laws.

Do we want to return ESEA to its original goals? Should accountability be set nationally in a manner such as outlined here, but, maybe under its own law? Now would be the time to decide.

What we know with certainty is that current federal education law, as it stands, has neither served us well nor protected children from the harmful effects of politics-gone-wrong.

Our lawmakers have proven themselves incapable of responsible decision-making in the arena of education policy. It is time for the People to make demands.

Choices to consider: 1) Push Congress to make the law right, 2) call for a moratorium on testing if they can’t produce a reauthorization we can live with and prosper by, 3) boycott testing now. Unfulfilled promises of action are no longer good enough.

PARENTS: submit your tests refusal letters now. The parents that came before you in the standards, testing, accountability movement waited for lawmakers to act. They didn’t; you must.

CITIZENS: what happened to leaving a place better than you found it? The public education system is systematically being dismantled. Get off the sidelines!

To read more about accountability at the different levels, see Accountability Where It Matters Most, Accountability for School Quality, and Accountability for Administration.

We aren’t short on ideas; we are stymied by the corrupted politics of education.

Update 5/6/2015 PLEASE view the accountability summary chart now under the Federal Education Law drop down menu. Thank you for considering.